HC Deb 13 May 1965 vol 712 cc695-7
Q1. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister what instructions have been given to Ministers about following a policy of buying British.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

No general instructions, Sir.

Mr. Marten

Would not the Prime Minister agree that the Minister of Aviation is one of the biggest defenders of not buying British? Does he realise that by not buying British aircraft we are dissipating the technological resources of this country? On the other side of the same coin, can the Prime Minister please confirm that if we purchase the F 111 the payments will be spread over 13 years and for the F 130 over 25 years, and is not this bad for our balance of payments?

The Prime Minister

This has been fully debated and it would have been easier for my right hon. Friend to have bought British aircraft if the hon. Gentleman and his senior partner at the Ministry of Aviation had left those aircraft in a position where they would be ready at the time and available at a reasonable price to the taxpayer. So far as the general question put by the hon. Gentleman is concerned, the position is, of course, that all Ministers will try wherever possible to buy from sources within this country, provided that does not involve inordinate extra cost to the taxpayer. In the case of computers, where we have been fighting hard to keep the computer industry going, again if it had been done a little earlier we might have been in a stronger position for Government Departments to buy British.

Mr. Woodburn

On the general question, may I ask the Prime Minister whether there is any plan to use the tremendous spending power of the Government to help in a policy for the location of industry? For example, is it not much easier, by planning properly, to develop industries where they exist than to shift great industries from one part of the country to another. Is not—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—Dounreay in Scotland and industries and research in the west of Scotland an example in recent history?

The Prime Minister

This spending power is being used for this purpose, and I think that it has been done continuously over a period of years. We are trying to mobilise the spending power of some new sources of purchase. I have referred to computers for which there was a big Government programme to use them to get industry modernised and cheapen costs to enable us to place many more of our orders with genuinely British firms.

Captain W. Elliot

Would not the Prime Minister agree that the cost to the country of the decision to buy a particular type of aircraft does not end with that decision if in the process it destroys an industry and forces the country to buy all future types from other countries?

The Prime Minister

Certainly, I agree, but so far as the aircraft industry is concerned, in the first place my right hon. Friends have made clear that there is no decision whatever to buy the F 111. This is a matter which will take a lot more consideration; there is certainly no decision. Secondly, regarding the "technological fall-out," as it is called, it is vitally urgent to get more resources in scientific terms and in craftsmanship in civil industries so that we may keep up with other countries in civil technology where we have been falling behind.

Mr. Heath

If the Prime Minister looks at the figures for the purchase of computers by the Government in recent years, would not he agree that the great majority of computers bought by the Government were British computers; and at a period when the figures are worse for the second month running and at the exact moment when the Prime Minister is saying on television that he has got on top of it, does not he think it vitally important that he should take notice of what my hon. Friend has said?

The Prime Minister

It is only a year ago that we were hearing very much from the right hon. Gentleman about not taking single months. [Interruption.] All right, if the right hon. Gentleman will compare the trade figures for those two months with the same two months last year, the very two months when he and his right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said that the figures were marvellous—he and the then Prime Minister both said that there was good news coming—he will see that the figures were far larger in terms of the gap.

With regard to the computers, I agree that of the relatively small but growing programme of Government computer orders in the 12 months before last October, the majority were for computers made in this country, though I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that a considerable number were for American firms which were stationed in this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Stationed?"] Yes, practising in this country. But the right hon. Gentleman will not disagree that by October last there was the very gravest doubt about whether an independent British computer industry could survive at all. Now, it will.

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